Toyota invests $400m in Pony.ai’s autonomous vehicle tech

26 Feb 2020567 Views

Image: © Björn Wylezich/Stock.adobe.com

Toyota aims to deepen the integration of Pony.ai’s autonomous driving system with the Japanese motor giant’s vehicle platforms and technologies.

On Tuesday (25 February), autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai announced that it received $400m in investment from Toyota Motor Corporation, which will be used to deepen and expand the two companies’ collaboration in mobility services.

Founded in 2016 by James Peng and Tiancheng Lou, Pony.ai uses artificial intelligence to build full-stack autonomous driving solutions. According to the start-up, its latest funding round was worth $462m, including the $400m recently invested by Toyota.

Pony.ai, which is based in California with offices in Beijing and Guangzhou in China, is now valued at $3bn. The company has been working with Toyota for the past year, with the goal of testing autonomous vehicles to eventually bring them to market.

Strengthened ties

The two companies now aim to enable deeper integration of Pony.ai’s autonomous driving system with Toyota’s vehicle platforms and technologies. The two companies will also look “beyond the vehicle itself” to explore further possibilities in mobility services.

In a statement, Pony.ai said that this type of collaboration is “a strategic approach for both companies”, and that the investment will expand the partnership’s scope of collaboration.

In 2018, Pony.ai claimed that it was the first company to launch a robotic taxi operation, offering self-driving car rides to members of the public in China. In November 2019, the company also said it was the first to roll out a public-facing robotaxi pilot service in California.

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In a statement, the start-up said: “Pony.ai and Toyota will continue to work together to deliver on their shared vision of a safe and sustainable mobility future. The partnership will focus on providing meaningful societal benefit by leveraging the technologies, know-how and services of each company.”

Aside from Toyota, the start-up has received investment from Sequoia Capital, Redpoint Ventures and Morningside Ventures.

Toyota’s self-driving programme

According to The Verge, Toyota has remained relatively quiet about its plans for self-driving cars. The Japanese company has rarely made public statements on its programme but has released some information about test vehicles, revealing that it has managed to shrink down various aspects of the equipment that is needed to run an autonomous vehicle.

The company also released information on the sensors it uses on autonomous vehicles at CES 2018. Toyota claimed that the sensors could ‘see’ up to 200 metres in every direction.

Toyota’s investment in Pony.ai isn’t the only big deal on the autonomous vehicle scene. According to PitchBook, there have been 323 deals related to autonomous cars made in the last two years, with a total of $14.6bn poured into the industry worldwide.

Toyota has also invested in other autonomous vehicle firms and has partnerships with SoftBank and Uber. In a bid to develop mobility services, Toyota invested $600m in Chinese ride-hailing business Didi Chuxing last year.

Kelly Earley is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

editorial@siliconrepublic.com